Choosing The Right CMS

Have you ever spent what feels like an eternity researching the correct tools for your organization, and just ended up feeling like it was just a big blur? Let us help you sort things out.



Drupal is an open-source CMS that can be customized to do nearly anything. It is powerful and modular (you can find a Drupal Module for almost anything), but does require significant developer knowledge to get started. It has a relatively steep learning curve compared to the other CMSes detailed here. However, it is a very common CMS with a large and helpful community support system.


Wordpress is a very common CMS that, like Drupal, has many plugins to customize the site and a large support community. It's more user-friendly, but less customizable and powerful. Wordpress works best for blog-centered sites.


NationBuilder is a combination CRM/CMS. More info on NationBuilder as a CRM can be found in our posts on Choosing the right CRM and NationBuilder vs Salsa. NationBuilder is very easy to use and user-friendly, but has the most limitations when it comes to customization. Types of content and organization of content is more rigid - while initial set up can be done with minimal developer skills, most customization does require some developer skills. It does not use a module or plugin system like WordPress and Drupal, although there are some third party applications that integrate with NationBuilder.


In addition to building the inital website, sites typically need maintenance (e.g., to update security, to improve code and fix bugs), hosting (depending on your host and needs, this can typically run between $10 and $100+/month), and a domain name (typically around $10 a year, with discounts for buying multiple years at once).


Drupal is open-source and free to download, but initial setup requires some developer skills and may need to be done by an outside organization if your staff doesn't have the requisite skills. Your organization will likely need periodic help with maintaining and updating the site (e.g., security updates). Plus you will need to roll in the cost of hosting and a domain name.


Wordpress can also be downloaded for free. Initial set up can be done by someone with minimal developer skills, but if you need customization on your site, and outside person may need to be brought on to assist with inital development. Depending on your organization's internal skills, you may need periodic help with maintaining and updating the site (e.g., security updates). Plus you will need to roll in the cost of hosting and a domain name.


NationBuilder charges by the supporter. An active list of 15k puts you on the lower bound of a range of $49-69 per month for base NationBuilder services. While this is very reasonable, some seemingly standard features for NB are packaged as add-ons which can elevate that monthly rate further. More information about pricing can be found here. NationBuilder's fee covers hosting costs but a unique domain (e.g., will incur it's own costs.

What to Consider?

What will a website do for you?
The most important thing about creating and having a website is to have demonstrable goals. "Having a web presence" is too vague, you need to have clear ways that a website will help your organization, such as:

  • Increase newsletter sign ups
  • Increase social sharing
  • Increase online donations

In short, your site should be working for your organization with concrete results. Each of these platforms can help you achieve your goals, but only if you can articulate those goals.

Who will manage it?

The question of who will manage your site is important for the process of keeping your site up-to-date. That person's level of technical expertise may also play a roll in which CMS you choose.

What do you know you need?

This bit is where functionality truly comes into play. Try to come up with 3 very specific things you know you are going to want to do with you CMS. This helps you to understand if you need any custom features, and almost every organization does. Also, if a CMS you're considering does not have any of your 3 specific features out-of-the-box, it may be best to cross it off the list. You will likely make this list of requirements based off of your answer to the questions of "What will a website do for you?"